Leading Jewish historian Dr. Samuel Kassow recently visited the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College for a standing-room-only screening of the award-winning documentary, Who Will Write Our History. The screening, sponsored by the President’s Office and the Jewish Studies Center at Hunter College, was followed by a discussion with Kassow and the center’s director, Professor Leah Garrett, and concluded with an audience Q&A.
Dr. Kassow, an historian of Polish Jewry, is the Northam Professor at Trinity College and serves as a consultant to the Museum of History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw. He is recognized as one of the leading voices in educating people about the Holocaust and preserving the memory of the Jewish people who perished during WWII. “In the field of Jewish studies, Samuel Kassow has been the driving force that has brought the story of the Oyneg Shabes out to the public at large and has been really responsible for getting this information out to the broader world,” said Dr. Garrett.
The film Who Will Write Our History is based on Kassow’s critically-acclaimed book of the same name and follows the plight of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive. The Oyneg Shabes Archive was a secret organization comprised of scholars, journalists, and artists led by Ringelblum in the Nazi sealed Warsaw Ghetto. Their efforts to expose the horrific situation of Jews in occupied Europe provide a harrowing reminder of the power of community and resistance in the face of unspeakable hardships.
After the screening, Dr. Kassow explained how the secret archives were created and preserved to combat the German belief that “they would not only murder the Jews, but decide and determine how they were remembered.” When describing the sheer importance of the efforts of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, Kassow notes that without them, “all we would have known about that time would have been German documents—what the perpetrators thought and how they saw the Jews.”
Kassow, who is a native Yiddish speaker and child of Holocaust survivors, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish History. “For PhD students like myself…Sam’s book was like the bible of Jewish Studies and Jewish History,” Garrett told the audience during the post-screening discussion. “It was our primary source.”
Since joining the Hunter College faculty in 2018 as Director of the Jewish Studies Center, Garrett has brought prominent thought leaders and historians to campus to speak and engage with students and other members of the Hunter community. Her “Lunch With a Leader” Series has included the likes of noted photographer Judy Glickman Lauder and author Eddy Portnoy. It is through these dynamic and interdisciplinary events, that the center is able to shed light on the Jewish experience and provide a bridge from the past to the present.